In Des Moines, Iowa, Des Moines Area Regional Transit (DART) arranged to have some signs put on local busses that said, "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." Immediately after the advertisements went up DART reports that it started to receive phone calls from people saying that they were offended by the advertisements. The advertisements were immediately pulled.
I would like to tell a little story that, I think, will put the incident into its correct moral perspective.
It is a story about the owner of a small night-club that likes to showcase local talent. He is presented with a singer one day. The singer is Jewish, but the owner gives little thought to this fact. She is as good a singer as many of the others he has hired so he signs the singer up for a couple of weeks.
The first night that this singer comes to the stage is when the people in the community discover that the tavern owner has signed a Jewish girl to perform. Some of the business’s regular customers are outraged and offended by the sight of a Jew on the stage. They express their outrage to the owner. More than this, some of them announce that they will not come to that restaurant so long as that Jew is performing.
So, the next day, the owner goes to the singer and fires her, quickly hiring a substitute act to take her place. Specifically, what he does is send her an e-mail telling her that the contract has been terminated. From that point on the owner refuses to take any of her calls or even talk to the singer about what happens. That is it – that is, as far as the owner is concerned, the end of the discussion.
Perhaps the owner is ashamed at what he felt he had to do. H does not want to face the victim of obvious bigotry and tell her that he is siding with the bigots. For the same of his own self-image he simply wants the situation to go away so that he can go on with running his business. That is what is important to him . . . running the business.
In the name of running this business, the owner next goes out amongst the crowd and tells them, "Look, I'm sorry. I made a mistake. Hey, I'm one of you. I would never have actually hired a Jew to sing at my supper club. I was distracted. One of my cooks quit last week and I had gotten a shipment of ingredients that clearly wasn't fresh and, with all of this going on, somehow this Jew got booked onto my stage for Monday night. I told them no . . . at the last minute . . . but somebody obviously did not get the message."
Now, the question is, "What happens next?"
If the story is allowed to end here, what has happened is that anti-Jewish bigotry not only goes unchallenged, it is reinforced. The incident creates positive reinforcement for the attitude of anti-Jewish bigotry, with the consequence being that anti-Jewish sentiments in the community will become that much stronger and that much more entrenched.
Furthermore, the publicity has sent a message throughout the community not to hire Jews. Every business owner will now have the memory of what happened to the club down the street when it dared to put a Jew on the stage. They will reference that memory whenever they have potential dealings with Jews, and be wary of those dealings, preferring, instead, to deal with regular Christians instead.
If the story stops here, then the message that the story itself will spread across the city of Des Moines is exactly the opposite of the story that those who arranged for the advertisement wanted. The story will spread to those who do not believe in God that they must shut up and remain silent to be accepted. The story is that those who hate atheists will make sure that any sign that there is an atheist in their midst will be met with hostility and protest until the atheist is silent – because the only good atheist is an invisible atheist.
So, it is important in this case that the DART (or, more precisely, the bigotry that DART has decided to patronize) does not win.
However, the method of victory is also important. If the victory is won through the courts, then all of this public hatred of atheists will be directed to the courts. It will then turn into action to reform the courts – by electing the right politicians who will appoint the right judges who will no longer side with the hated atheists.
The case has to be taken to the people themselves and explained to them in a way that they can understand the wrongness of it, and the vileness of those who were offended.
Perhaps one way to explain it to them in a way they will understand is to tell the story of the owner of a small night-club who, having no animosity against Jews, hired a Jewish singer, only to fire her the next day because the community is full of bigots who refused to patronize a place that would dare to put a Jew on the stage.